The clarinet is a musical instrument that is a part of the woodwind family. The name derives from adding the suffix -et (meaning little) to the Italian word clarino (meaning a type of trumpet), as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed. In jazz contexts, it is sometimes informally referred to as the "licorice stick."
Clarinets comprise a family of instruments of differing sizes and pitches. The clarinet family is the largest such woodwind family, with more than a dozen types, ranging from the BB♭ contrabass to the A♭ soprano. Of these, many are rare or obsolete, and music written for them is usually played on the common types. The unmodified word clarinet usually refers to the B♭ soprano clarinet, by far the most commonly played clarinet.
A person who plays the clarinet is called a clarinetist or clarinettist. Johann Christoph Denner invented the clarinet in Germany around the turn of the 18th century by adding a register key to the earlier chalumeau. Over time, additional keywork and airtight pads were added to improve tone and playability. Today, the clarinet is used in jazz and classical ensembles, in chamber groups, and as a solo instrument.
The cylindrical bore is primarily responsible for the clarinet's distinctive timbre, which varies between its three main registers, known as the chalumeau, clarion, and altissimo. The tone quality can vary greatly with the musician, the music, the instrument, the mouthpiece, and the reed. The differences in instruments and geographical isolation of players in different countries led to the development, from the last part of the 18th century onwards, of several different schools of clarinet playing. The most prominent were the German/Viennese traditions and the French school. The latter was centered around the clarinetists of the Conservatoire de Paris. The proliferation of recorded music has made examples of different styles of clarinet playing available. The modern clarinetist has a diverse palette of "acceptable" tone qualities to choose from.
The A clarinet and B♭ clarinet have nearly the same bore, and use the same mouthpiece. Orchestral players using the A and B♭ instruments in the same concert use the same mouthpiece (and often the same barrel) for both (see 'usage' below). The A and the B♭ instruments have nearly identical tonal quality, although the A typically has a slightly warmer sound. The tone of the E♭ clarinet is brighter than that of the lower clarinets and can be heard even through loud orchestral textures. The bass clarinet has a characteristically deep, mellow sound, while the alto clarinet is similar in tone to the bass and the basset horn has a tone quality comparable to the A clarinet.
Clarinets have the largest pitch range of common woodwinds. The intricate key organization that makes this range possible can make the playability of some passages awkward. The bottom of the clarinet’s written range is defined by the keywork on each instrument; standard keywork schemes allow a low E on the common B♭ clarinet. The lowest concert pitch depends on the transposition of the instrument in question.
Nearly all soprano and piccolo clarinets have keywork enabling them to play the E below middle C (E3 in scientific pitch notation) as their lowest written note, though some B♭ clarinets go down to E♭3 to enable them to match the range of the A clarinet. With the B♭ soprano clarinet, the concert pitch of the lowest note is D3, a whole tone lower than the written pitch. Most alto and bass clarinets have an extra key to allow a (written) E♭3. Modern professional-quality bass clarinets generally have additional keywork to written C3. Among the less commonly encountered members of the clarinet family, contra-alto and contrabass clarinets may have keywork to written E♭3, D3, or C3; the basset clarinet and basset horn generally go to low C3.
Defining the top end of a clarinet’s range is difficult, since many advanced players can produce notes well above the highest notes commonly found in method books. The G two octaves above G4 are usually the highest note clarinetists encounter in music. The C above that (C7 i.e. resting on the fifth ledger line above the treble staff) is attainable by most advanced players and is shown on many fingering charts.
The range of a clarinet can be divided into three distinct registers. The lowest register, consisting of the notes up to the written B♭ above middle C (B♭4), is known as the chalumeau register (named after the instrument that was the clarinet's immediate predecessor). The middle register is termed the clarino (sometimes clarion) register and spans just over an octave (from written B above middle C (B4) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)); it is the dominant range for most members of the clarinet family and is audible above the brass while playing forte. The top or altissimo register consists of the notes above the written C two octaves above middle C (C6). Unlike other woodwinds, all three registers have characteristically different sounds. The chalumeau register is rich and quiet. The clarino register is bright and sweet, like a trumpet heard from afar ("clarino" means trumpet). The altissimo register can be piercing and sometimes shrill.
Clarinet bodies have been made from a variety of materials including wood, plastic, hard rubber, metal, resin, and ivory. The vast majority of clarinets used by professional musicians are made from African hardwood, mpingo (African Blackwood) or grenadilla, rarely (because of diminishing supplies) Honduran rosewood and sometimes even cocobolo. Historically other woods, notably boxwood, were used.
Most modern, inexpensive instruments are made of plastic resin, such as ABS. These materials are sometimes called "resonite", which is Selmer's trademark name for its type of plastic. Metal soprano clarinets were popular in the early twentieth century, until plastic instruments supplanted them; metal construction is still used for the bodies of some contra-alto and contrabass clarinets, and for the necks and bells of nearly all alto and larger clarinets. Ivory was used for a few 18th century clarinets, but it tends to crack and does not keep its shape well.
Buffet Crampon's Greenline clarinets are made from a composite of grenadilla wood powder and carbon fiber. Such instruments are less affected by humidity and temperature changes than wooden instruments but are heavier. Hard rubber, such as ebonite, has been used for clarinets since the 1860s, although few modern clarinets are made of it. Clarinet designers Alastair Hanson and Tom Ridenour are strong advocates of hard rubber. Hanson Clarinets of England manufactures clarinets using a grenadilla compound reinforced with ebonite, known as 'BTR' (bithermal reinforced) grenadilla. This material is also not affected by humidity, and the weight is the same as that of a wood clarinet.
Mouthpieces are generally made of hard rubber, although some inexpensive mouthpieces may be made of plastic. Other materials such as crystal/glass, wood, ivory, and metal have also been used. Ligatures are often made out of metal and plated in nickel, silver or gold. Other ligature materials include wire, wire mesh, plastic, naugahyde, string, or leather.
The instrument uses a single reed made from the cane of Arundo donax, a type of grass. Reeds may also be manufactured from synthetic materials. The ligature fastens the reed to the mouthpiece. When air is blown through the opening between the reed and the mouthpiece facing, the reed vibrates and produces the instrument's sound.
Basic reed measurements are as follows: tip, 12 millimetres (0.47 in) wide; lay, 15 millimetres (0.59 in) long (distance from the place where the reed touches the mouthpiece to the tip); gap, 1 millimetre (0.039 in) (distance between the underside of the reed tip and the mouthpiece). Adjustment to these measurements is one method of affecting tone color.
Most clarinetists buy manufactured reeds, although many make adjustments to these reeds and some make their own reeds from cane "blanks". Reeds come in varying degrees of hardness, generally indicated on a scale from one (soft) through five (hard). This numbering system is not standardized — reeds with the same hardness number often vary in hardness across manufacturers and models. Reed and mouthpiece characteristics work together to determine ease of playability, pitch stability, and tonal characteristics.
Components of a modern soprano clarinet
Note: A Boehm system soprano clarinet is shown in the photos illustrating this section. However, all modern clarinets have similar components.
The reed is attached to the mouthpiece by the ligature, and the top half-inch or so of this assembly is held in the player’s mouth. German clarinetists often wrap a string around the mouthpiece and reed instead of using a ligature. The formation of the mouth around the mouthpiece and reed is called the embouchure.
The reed is on the underside of the mouthpiece, pressing against the player's lower lip, while the top teeth normally contact the top of the mouthpiece (some players roll the upper lip under the top teeth to form what is called a ‘double-lip’ embouchure). Adjustments in the strength and shape of the embouchure change the tone and intonation (tuning). It is not uncommon for clarinetists to employ methods to relieve the pressure on the upper teeth and inner lower lip by attaching pads to the top of the mouthpiece or putting (temporary) padding on the front lower teeth, commonly from folded paper.
Barrel of a B♭
Next is the short barrel; this part of the instrument may be extended to fine-tune the clarinet. As the pitch of the clarinet is fairly temperature-sensitive, some instruments have interchangeable barrels whose lengths vary slightly. Additional compensation for pitch variation and tuning can be made by pulling out the barrel and thus increasing the instrument's length, particularly common in group playing in which clarinets are tuned to other instruments (such as in an orchestra). Some performers use a plastic barrel with a thumbwheel that enables the barrel length to be altered. On basset horns and lower clarinets, the barrel is normally replaced by a curved metal neck.
Upper Joint of a Boehm-System Clarinet
The main body of most clarinets is divided into the upper joint, the holes and most keys of which are operated by the left hand, and the lower joint with holes and most keys operated by the right hand. Some clarinets have a single joint: on some basset horns and larger clarinets the two joints are held together with a screw clamp and are usually not disassembled for storage. The left thumb operates both a tone hole and the register key. On some models of clarinet, such as many Albert system clarinets and increasingly some higher-end Boehm system clarinets, the register key is a 'wraparound' key, with the key on the back of the clarinet and the pad on the front. Advocates of the wraparound register key say it improves sound, and it is harder for moisture to accumulate in the tube beneath the pad.
The body of a modern soprano clarinet is equipped with numerous tone holes of which seven (six front, one back) are covered with the fingertips, and the rest are opened or closed using a set of keys. These tone holes allow every note of the chromatic scale to be produced. On alto and larger clarinets and a few soprano clarinets, some or all finger holes are replaced by key-covered holes. The most common system of keys was named the Boehm System by its designer Hyacinthe Klosé in honour of flute designer Theobald Boehm, but it is not the same as the Boehm System used on flutes. The other main system of keys is called the Öhler system and is used mostly in Germany and Austria (see History). The related Albert system is used by some jazz, klezmer, and eastern European folk musicians. The Albert and Oehler systems are both based on the early Mueller system.
Lower Joint of a Boehm-System Clarinet
The cluster of keys at the bottom of the upper joint (protruding slightly beyond the cork of the joint) are known as the trill keys and are operated by the right hand. These give the player alternative fingerings which make it easy to play ornaments and trills. The entire weight of the smaller clarinets is supported by the right thumb behind the lower joint on what is called the thumb-rest. Basset horns and larger clarinets are supported with a neck strap or a floor peg.
Bell of a B♭
Finally, the flared end is known as the bell. Contrary to popular belief, the bell does not amplify the sound; rather, it improves the uniformity of the instrument's tone for the lowest notes in each register. For the other notes the sound is produced almost entirely at the tone holes and the bell is irrelevant. On basset horns and larger clarinets, the bell curves up and forward and is usually made of metal.
Boehm Keywork and sample fingerings of a modern soprano clarinet
Theobald Boehm did not directly invent the key system of the clarinet. Boehm was a flautist who created the key system that is now used for the Transverse Flute. Klosé and Buffet applied Boehm's system to the Clarinet. Although the credit goes to those people, Boehm's name was given to that key system.
The current Boehm key system consists of generally 6 rings, on the thumb, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th holes, a register key just above the thumb hole, easily accessible with the thumb. Above the 1st hole, there is a key that lifts two covers creating the note A in the throat register (high part of low register) of the clarinet. A key at the side of the instrument at the same height as the A key lifts only one of the two covers, producing G# a semitone lower. The A key can be used in conjunction solely with the register key to produce A#/Bb.
Vibration of the air column in the soprano clarinet
Sound is a wave that propagates through the air as a result of a local variation in air pressure. The production of sound by a clarinet follows these steps:
- The air in the bore of the instrument is at normal atmospheric pressure and moves towards the bell (or the first open hole). The minuscule space between the mouthpiece and the reed allows only a small amount of air to enter the instrument. This creates a low-pressure area in the mouthpiece. The difference in pressure between the two sides of the reed increases, causing the reed to press against the mouthpiece.
- The wave of low-pressure air moves down the bore and arrives at the first open hole
- The outside air, at normal atmospheric pressure, is sucked in by the low pressure inside. The air which was previously leaving the clarinet through the hole changes direction quickly and enters the bore.
- The incoming air normalizes the pressure within the bore, starting at the open hole and moving back towards the mouthpiece
- Once all the air in the bore is at atmospheric pressure (moving towards the mouthpiece), the difference in pressure between the two sides of the reed decreases and the reed returns to its original position.
- The moving column of air is stopped by the sudden collision with the pressurized air coming from the player's mouth. A wave of high-pressure air moves towards the first open hole.
- When the high-pressure air arrives at the open hole, the air coming into the bore abruptly changes direction and goes out through the hole.
- The high pressure normalizes and the cycle restarts
The cycle repeats at a constant frequency and emits a note related to that frequency. For example, A4 (440 Hz) is produced when the cycle repeats 440 times per second.
The bore of the soprano clarinet is cylindrical for most of the tube with an inner bore diameter between 14 and 15.5 millimetres (0.55 and 0.61 in), but there is a subtle hourglass shape, with the thinnest part below the junction between the upper and lower joint. The reduction is 1 to 3 millimetres (0.039 to 0.12 in) depending on the maker. This hourglass shape, although not visible to the naked eye, helps to correct the pitch/scale discrepancy between the chalumeau and clarino registers (perfect 12th). The diameter of the bore affects characteristics such as available harmonics, timbre, and stability of pitch (the extent to which a note can be 'bent' in the manner required in jazz and other styles of music). The bell at the bottom of the instrument flares out to improve the tone of the lowest notes.
Most modern clarinets have "undercut" tone holes to improve intonation and the sound. Undercutting means chamfering the bottom edge of tone holes inside the bore. Acoustically, this makes the tone hole function as if it were larger, but its main function is to allow the air column to follow the curve up through the tone hole (surface tension) instead of "blowing past" it under the increased velocity of the upper registers.
The fixed reed and fairly uniform diameter of the clarinet give the instrument an acoustical behavior approximating that of a cylindrical stopped pipe. Recorders use a tapered internal bore to overblow at the 8th (octave) when its thumb/register hole is pinched open while the clarinet, with its cylindrical bore, overblows on the 12th. Adjusting the angle of the bore taper controls the frequencies of the overblown notes (harmonics). Changing the mouthpiece's tip opening and the length of the reed changes the harmonic timbre or voice of the instrument because this changes the speed of reed vibrations. Generally, the goal of the clarinetist when producing a sound is to make as much of the reed vibrate as possible, making the sound fuller, warmer, and potentially louder.
Covering or uncovering the tone holes varies the length of the pipe, changing the resonant frequencies of the enclosed air column and hence the pitch of the sound. A clarinetist moves between the chalumeau and clarino registers through use of the register key, or speaker key: clarinetists call the change from chalumeau register to clarino register "the break". The register key, when pressed, cancels the fundamental frequency scale and forces the clarinet to produce the next dominant harmonic scale a twelfth higher, and when using at least fingers 1-2-3 1-2, taking off the first finger on the left hand, acts as another register key, and doesn't overblow a twelfth, but instead a sixth. The clarinet is therefore said to overblow at the twelfth, and when moving to the altissimo register, a sixth. By contrast, nearly all other woodwind instruments overblow at the octave, or like the Ocarina and Tonette, do not overblow at all (the Rackett or Sausage Bassoon is the next most common Western instrument that overblows at the twelfth). A clarinet must have holes and keys for nineteen notes (a chromatic octave and a half, from bottom E to B♭) in its lowest register to play the chromatic scale. This overblowing behavior explains the clarinet's great range and complex fingering system. The fifth and seventh harmonics are also available, sounding a further sixth and fourth (a flat, diminished fifth) higher respectively; these are the notes of the altissimo register. This is also why the inner "waist" measurement is so critical to these harmonic frequencies.
The highest notes on a clarinet can have a shrill piercing quality and can be difficult to tune accurately. Different instruments often play differently in this respect due to the sensitivity of the bore and reed measurements. Using alternate fingerings and adjusting the embouchure helps correct the pitch of these higher notes.
Since approximately 1850, clarinets have been nominally tuned according to 12-tone equal temperament. Older clarinets were nominally tuned to meantone. A skilled performer can use his or her embouchure to considerably alter the tuning of individual notes or to produce vibrato, a pulsating change of pitch often employed in jazz. Vibrato is rare in classical or concert band literature; however, certain clarinetists, such as Richard Stoltzman, do use vibrato in classical music. Special fingerings may be used to play quarter tones and other microtonal intervals. Fritz Schüller of Markneukirchen, Germany built a quarter tone clarinet, with two parallel bores of slightly different lengths whose tone holes are operated using the same keywork and a valve to switch from one bore to the other.
Schüller's quarter-tone clarinet
4-key boxwood clarinet, ca. 1760.
The clarinet has its roots in the early single-reed instruments or hornpipes used in the Middle East and Europe since the Middle Ages, such as the albogue, alboka, and double clarinet.
The modern clarinet developed from a Baroque instrument called the chalumeau. This instrument was similar to a recorder, but with a single-reed mouthpiece and a cylindrical bore. Lacking a register key, it was played mainly in its fundamental register, with a limited range of about one and a half octaves. It had eight finger holes, like a recorder, and two keys for its two highest notes. At this time, contrary to modern practice, the reed was placed in contact with the upper lip.
Around the turn of the 18th century, the chalumeau was modified by converting one of its keys into a register key to produce the first clarinet. This development is usually attributed to German instrument maker Johann Christoph Denner, though some have suggested his son Jacob Denner was the inventor. This instrument played well in the middle register with a loud, shrill sound, so it was given the name clarinetto meaning "little trumpet" (from clarino + -etto). Early clarinets did not play well in the lower register, so chalumeaux continued to be made to play the low notes. As clarinets improved, the chalumeau fell into disuse and these notes became known as the chalumeau register. The original Denner clarinets had two keys, and could play a chromatic scale, but various makers added more keys to get improved tuning, easier fingerings, and a slightly larger range. The classical clarinet of Mozart's day typically had eight finger holes and five keys.
Clarinets were soon accepted into orchestras. Later models had a mellower tone than the originals. Mozart (d. 1791) liked the sound of the clarinet (he considered its tone the closest in quality to the human voice) and wrote much music for it, and by the time of Beethoven (c. 1800–1820), the clarinet was a standard fixture in the orchestra.
The next major development in the history of clarinet was the invention of the modern pad. Early clarinets covered the tone holes with felt pads. Because these leaked air, the pads had to be kept to a minimum, so the clarinet was severely restricted in what notes could be played with good tone. In 1812, Iwan Müller, a Russian-born clarinetist and inventor, developed a new type of pad which was covered in leather or fish bladder. This was completely airtight, so the number of keys could be increased enormously. He designed a new type of clarinet with seven finger holes and thirteen keys. This allowed the clarinet to play in any key with near-equal ease. Over the course of the 19th century, many enhancements were made to Mueller's clarinet, such as the Albert system and the Baermann system, all keeping the same basic design.
Arrangement of keys and holes
clarinets use additional tone holes to correct intonation (patent C♯, low E-F correction, fork-F/B♭ correction and fork B♭ correction)
The final development in the modern design of the clarinet used in most of the world today was introduced by Hyacinthe Klosé in 1839. He devised a different arrangement of keys and finger holes which allow simpler fingering. It was inspired by the Boehm System developed for flutes by Theobald Boehm. Klosé was so impressed by Boehm's invention that he named his own system for clarinets the Boehm system, although it is different from the one used on flutes. This new system was slow to gain popularity because it meant the player had to relearn how to play the instrument. To ease this transition, Klose wrote a series of exercises for the clarinet, designed to teach his fingering system. Gradually it became the standard, and today the Boehm system is used everywhere in the world except Germany and Austria. These countries still use a direct descendant of the Mueller clarinet known as the Öhler system clarinet. Also, some contemporary Dixieland and Klezmer players continue to use Albert system clarinets, as the simpler fingering system can allow for easier slurring of notes. At one time the reed was held on using string, but now the practice exists primarily in Germany and Austria.
Usage and repertoire
Use of multiple clarinets
The modern orchestral standard of using soprano clarinets in both B♭ and A has to do partly with the history of the instrument, and partly with acoustics, aesthetics and economics. Before about 1800, due to the lack of airtight pads (see History), practical woodwinds could have only a few keys to control accidentals (notes outside their diatonic home scales). The low (chalumeau) register of the clarinet spans a twelfth (an octave plus a perfect fifth), so the clarinet needs keys to produce all nineteen notes in that range. This involves more keywork than is necessary on instruments which "overblow" at the octave — oboes, flutes, bassoons, and saxophones, for example, which need only twelve notes before overblowing.
Clarinets with few keys cannot therefore easily play chromatically, limiting any such instrument to a few closely related key signatures. For example, an eighteenth–century clarinet in C could be played in F, C, and G (and their relative minors) with good intonation, but with progressive difficulty and poorer intonation as the key moved away from this range. In contrast, for octave-overblowing instruments, an instrument in C with few keys could much more readily be played in any key.
This problem was overcome by using three clarinets — in A, B♭ and C — so that early 19th century music, which rarely strayed into the remote keys (five or six sharps or flats), could be played as follows: music in 5 to 2 sharps (B major to D major concert pitch) on A clarinet (D major to F major for the player), music in 1 sharp to 1 flat (G to F) on C clarinet, and music in 2 flats to 4 flats (B♭ to A♭) on the B♭ clarinet (C to B♭ for the player). Difficult key signatures and numerous accidentals were thus largely avoided.
With the invention of the airtight pad, and as key technology improved and more keys were added to woodwinds, the need for clarinets in multiple musical keys was reduced. However, the use of multiple instruments in different keys persisted, with the three instruments in C, B♭ and A all used as specified by the composer.
The lower-pitched clarinets sound more "mellow" (less bright), and the C clarinet – being the highest and therefore brightest of the three – fell out of favour as the other two clarinets could cover its range and their sound was considered better. While the clarinet in C began to fall out of general use around 1850, some composers continued to write C parts after this date, e.g. Bizet's Symphony in C (1855), Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 (1872), Smetana's Vltava (1874), Brahms Symphony No. 4 (1885), and Richard Strauss deliberately reintroduced it to take advantage of its brighter tone, as in Der Rosenkavalier (1911).
While technical improvements and an equal-tempered scale reduced the need for two clarinets, the technical difficulty of playing in remote keys persisted and the A has thus remained a standard orchestral instrument. In addition, by the late 19th century the orchestral clarinet repertoire contained so much music for clarinet in A that the disuse of this instrument was not practical. Attempts were made to standardise to the B♭ instrument between 1930 and 1950 (e.g. tutors recommended learning the routine transposition of orchestral A parts on the B♭ clarinet, including solos written for A clarinet, and some manufacturers provided a low E♭ on the B♭ to match the range of the A), but this failed in the orchestral sphere.
Similarly there have been E♭ and D instruments in the upper soprano range, B♭, A, and C instruments in the bass range, and so forth; but over time the E♭ and B♭ instruments have become predominant.
The B♭ instrument continues to be dominant in wind ensemble music and in jazz, with both B♭ and C instruments used in some ethnic traditions, such as klezmer music.
A pair of Boehm-System Soprano Clarinets – one in B♭
and one in A.
In classical music, clarinets are part of standard orchestral instrumentation, which frequently includes two clarinetists playing individual parts — each player is usually equipped with a pair of standard clarinets in B♭ and A (see above) and clarinet parts commonly alternate between B♭ and A instruments several times over the course of a piece or even, less commonly, of a movement (e.g. 1st movement Brahms 3rd symphony). Clarinet sections grew larger during the last few decades of the 19th century, often employing a third clarinetist, an E♭ or a bass clarinet. In the 20th century, composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Olivier Messiaen enlarged the clarinet section on occasion to up to nine players, employing many different clarinets including the E♭ or D soprano clarinets, basset horn, alto clarinet, bass clarinet and/or contrabass clarinet.
This practice of using a variety of clarinets to achieve coloristic variety was common in 20th century music and continues today. However, many clarinetists and conductors prefer to play parts originally written for obscure instruments on B♭ or E♭ clarinets, which are often of better quality and more prevalent and accessible.
The clarinet is widely used as a solo instrument. The relatively late evolution of the clarinet (when compared to other orchestral woodwinds) has left solo repertoire from the Classical period and later, but few works from the Baroque era. Many clarinet concertos have been written to showcase the instrument, with the concerti by Mozart, Copland and Weber being well known.
Many works of chamber music have also been written for the clarinet. Common combinations are:
- Clarinet and piano (including clarinet sonatas)
- Clarinet, piano and another instrument (for example, string instrument or voice)
- Clarinet quartet: various combinations including four B♭ clarinets, three B♭ clarinets and bass clarinet, two B♭ clarinets, alto clarinet and bass, and other possibilities such as the use of a basset horn, especially in European classical works.
- Clarinet quintet, generally made up of a clarinet plus a string quartet.
- Wind quintet, consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn.
- Trio d'anches, or trio of reeds consists of oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.
- Wind octet, consists of pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns.
In wind bands, clarinets are a central part of the instrumentation, occupying the same space (and often playing the same notes) in bands that the strings do in orchestras. Bands usually include several B♭ clarinets, divided into sections each consisting of two or three clarinetists playing the same part. There is almost always an E♭ clarinet part and a bass clarinet part, usually doubled. Alto, contra-alto, and contrabass clarinets are sometimes used as well, and, rarely, a piccolo A♭ clarinet.
The clarinet was a central instrument in early jazz starting in the 1910s and remained popular in the United States through the big band era into the 1940s. Larry Shields, Ted Lewis, Jimmie Noone and Sidney Bechet were influential in early jazz. The B♭ soprano was the most common instrument, but a few early jazz musicians such as Louis Nelson Delisle and Alcide Nunez preferred the C soprano, and many New Orleans jazz brass bands have used E♭ soprano.
Swing clarinetists such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman led successful and popular big bands and smaller groups from the 1930s onward. With the decline of the big bands' popularity in the late 1940s, the clarinet faded from its prominent position in jazz, though a few players (John Carter, Buddy DeFranco, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Giuffre, Perry Robinson, Theo Jorgensmann and others) used clarinet in bebop and free jazz. The clarinet's place in the jazz ensemble was usurped by the saxophone, which projects a more powerful sound. The saxophone's less complicated fingering system may also have contributed to its popularity.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Britain underwent a surge in the popularity of traditional jazz. During this period, a British clarinetist named Acker Bilk became popular, founding his own ensemble in 1956. Bilk had a string of successful records, including the popular "Stranger on the Shore".
In the U.S., the instrument has seen something of a resurgence since the 1980s, with Eddie Daniels, Don Byron, and Marty Ehrlich and others playing the clarinet in more contemporary contexts. The instrument remains common in Dixieland music; Pete Fountain is one of the best known performers in this genre. Bob Wilber, active since the 1950s, is a more eclectic jazz clarinetist, playing in several classic jazz styles. Filmmaker Woody Allen is a notable jazz clarinet enthusiast, and performs New Orleans-style jazz regularly with his quartet in New York. - Jean-Christian Michel, French composer and clarinetist has initiated a jazz-classical cross-over on the clarinet with the drummer Kenny Clarke
Rock and pop
In rock and pop music, the clarinet is used very rarely. Some examples of its use are:
Clarinets also feature prominently in klezmer music, which entails a distinctive style of playing. The use of quarter-tones requires a different embouchure. Some klezmer musicians prefer Albert system clarinets.
The popular Brazilian music styles of choro and samba use the clarinet. Prominent contemporary players include Paulo Moura, Naylor 'Proveta' Azevedo, Paulo Sérgio dos Santos and Paquito D'Rivera.
The clarinet is prominent in Bulgarian wedding music, an offshoot of Roma/Romani traditional music. Ivo Papazov is a well-known clarinetist in this genre. In Moravian dulcimer bands, the clarinet is usually the only wind instrument among string instruments.
In Macedonian old-town folk music, called chalgija ("чалгија"), the clarinet has the most important role in wedding music; clarinet solos mark the high point of dancing euphoria. One of the most renowned Macedonian clarinet players is Tale Ognenovski, who gained worldwide fame for his virtuosity.
In Greece the clarinet (usually referred to as "κλαρίνο" - "clarino") is prominent in traditional music, especially in central and northwest Greece (Thessaly and Epirus). The double-reed zurna was the dominant woodwind instrument before the clarinet arrived in the country, although many Greeks regard the clarinet as a native instrument. Traditional dance music, wedding music and laments include a clarinet soloist and quite often improvisations. Petroloukas Chalkias is a famous clarinetist in this genre.
The instrument is equally famous in Turkey, especially the soprano clarinet in G. The soprano clarinet crossed via Turkey to Arabic music, where it is widely used in Arabic pop, especially if the intention of the arranger is to imitate the Turkish style.
Groups of clarinets
Contrabass and contra-alto clarinets
Groups of clarinets playing together have become increasingly popular among clarinet enthusiasts in recent years. Common forms are:
- Clarinet choir, which features a large number of clarinets playing together, usually involves a range of different members of the clarinet family (see Extended family of clarinets). The homogeneity of tone across the different members of the clarinet family produces an effect with some similarities to a human choir.
- Clarinet quartet, usually three B♭ sopranos and one B♭ bass, or two B♭, an E♭ Alto Clarinet, and a B♭ Bass Clarinet, or sometimes four B♭ sopranos.
Clarinet choirs and quartets often play arrangements of both classical and popular music, in addition to a body of literature specially written for a combination of clarinets by composers such as Arnold Cooke, Alfred Uhl, Daniel Theaker, Lucien Caillet and Václav Nelhýbel.
Extended family of clarinets
There is a family of many differently pitched clarinet types, some of which are very rare. The following are the most important sizes, from highest to lowest:
||Now rare, used for Italian military music and some contemporary pieces for its sonority;
||Characteristic timbre, used in concert band repertoire because its tonality is considered "compatible" with other instruments, especially those in B♭.
||Obscure because of its limited repertoire in Western music.
||Rare because its timbre is considered too bright.
||The most common type: used in most styles of music.
||Has a richer sound than B♭, frequently used in orchestral and chamber music.
||Clarinet in A extended to a low C; used primarily to play Classical-era music. Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was written for this instrument, though it is frequently played in a version for the ordinary A clarinet. Basset clarinets in Bb also exist; this instrument is required to play the obbligato to the aria "Parto, parto" in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito.
||Similar in appearance to the alto, but differs in that it is pitched in F, has an extended range to low C, and has a narrower bore on most models. Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was originally sketched out as a concerto for basset horn in G. Rarely used today.
||Used in chamber music and wind ensembles.
||Used in contemporary music, concert band and jazz; sometimes used in orchestral music.
|Contra-alto clarinet (also called E♭ Contrabass Clarinet)
||Used in clarinet choirs.
||Used in clarinet choirs and sometimes in orchestras and wind ensembles.
Experimental EEE♭ and BBB♭ octocontra-alto and octocontrabass clarinets have also been built. There have also been soprano clarinets in C, A, and B♭ with curved barrels and bells marketed under the names Saxonette, Claribel, and Clariphon.
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